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Golden plovers roosting on the saltmarsh

Following on from our blog post about the Solent’s small wading birds, here we share our top tips for identifying the Solent’s medium-sized migratory species.

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Tringa totanus

Redshanks are one of our most common wading birds, and you can see them almost anywhere around the Solent during the winter. Look for the striking red legs that give them their name (‘shank’ being another word for leg).

If you get a close look through binoculars, you may notice that the base of their bill is the same shade of orangey-red. Redshanks are solitary birds, and although they can be seen in groups, they are more often spotted on their own.

They feed in shallow water on shrimps, small fish, snails, crabs and worms, following the water’s edge as the tide moves in and out. Redshanks are flighty birds and easily startled, so are often the first bird to call out if they sense a threat nearby. This has earned them their nickname: ‘wardens of the marshes’.

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Tringa nebularia

Greenshanks have a grey back and white underparts, but from a distance they appear quite pale all over. They are taller than redshanks but more slender, with long, green legs and a slightly upturned bill.

Greenshanks tend to avoid crowds so you will generally see them either on their own or in small groups, feeding on fish, worms, and snails. They call out often with a ‘tew tew tew’ sound – like redshanks, they are vocal and wary.



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Grey plover

Pluvialis squatarola

Like other birds in the plover family, grey plovers have a short bill and large, round eyes. But the best way to identify them is by their behaviour – they catch small molluscs, worms, fish and insects using the ‘run stop peck’ feeding method, where birds wander around and then suddenly peck at the ground.

Grey plovers have dark grey legs, and during the winter, their plumage is a uniform mid-grey colour, but if you get a close-up look through binoculars or a telescope, you may notice the pretty flecks of very pale white-grey sprinkled throughout their back and wings. In flight, they are recognisable by their distinctive black ‘armpits’.

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Golden plover

Pluvialis apricaria

Golden plovers breed in Britain, Iceland, northern Europe, Russia and Siberia, and join us on the Solent for the winter months. They are a little smaller than their grey cousins, and during the winter their plumage has a beautiful golden sheen.

Like grey plovers, they feed using the run-stop-peck method, and will feed extensively at night, hunting beetles and earthworms by sight – their large, round eyes allow them to see well in the dark.


You will generally see golden plovers huddled close together on a high tide roost, or forming flocks with lapwings. They stay close together in flight too, staying in tight formations and beating their wings rapidly.

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For more information about identifying birds seen along the Solent, visit the Meet the Birds section of our website.

You can also read our feature about the Solent’s small wading birds, or our Birds of Prey guide.